T.R. Reddy: Engineering success

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T.R. could stand for Truly Remarkable.

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Entreprenuer, TR Reddy sits inside of his office at Powerline on Washington Rd in Augusta.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Entreprenuer, TR Reddy sits inside of his office at Powerline on Washington Rd in Augusta.

He's 65 years old, but don't think T.R. means Time to Retire.

It stands for Tippireddy Ramachandra, which is a mouthful and why engineer T.R. Reddy goes by the initials.

In his native India, his friends call him Ram.

They could call him a beloved philanthropist who's built a school and clinic to benefit his rural home city. In Augusta, he's the white knight investor, the advice giver, the kingmaker.

"He's the person to help people, the newcomer," said Augusta hotel owner Om Dugal, himself an Indian immigrant. "He's a good person. Helped me one time when I was looking to buy some land, and helped me to finance it."

While Mr. Reddy has helped a lot of Indian businesspeople over the course of his 40 years in America, his advice is not exclusive to those from his native land.

Take Kevin McKerley, for example. He met Mr. Reddy three years ago and now owns Powerline Inc., a wholesale power control equipment company Mr. Reddy started in 1985.

"Everyone knew him, every bank president, manager. They would all tell me about his success," Mr. McKerley said. "I called him to take him to lunch and he was gracious to share stuff with me. He took me under his wing and showed me some things."

Mr. Reddy spent his first decade in America working as an engineer for two Fortune 500 companies. In the midst of the country's energy crisis, he saw a budding power conservation industry and went out on his own in 1980. He called his first company Power Control Systems, a name indicative of what it did.

His biggest deals were designing and installing lighting and power controls for the Jacksonville (Fla.) Jaguars' stadium and General Motors' manufacturing plant in Tennessee, where it makes vehicles under the Saturn brand.

Mr. Reddy didn't get there overnight. He got his start by installing energy conservation systems in Augusta car dealerships, grocery stores, at Plant Vogtle and Savannah River Site.

Commercial real estate became a second career. He's not in the hotel business anymore, but he still owns the Picadilly Square shopping center on Washington Road, where he has his office.

"It is part of my retirement," he said with a smile.

His retirement, in reality, will include more time on efforts to improve his home nation. The energy conservationist has branched into the energy creation business -- his oil-fueled power plant is three years old.

Telugu man

When India became an independent nation in August 1947, Mr. Reddy was a 4-year-old on his father's farm in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. It is the rice bowl of India, but its capital city, Hyderabad -- home to a Microsoft development center -- is best known as the next Silicon Valley.

English is the language of business, Mr. Reddy said. For everything else, the language is Telugu.

Dashrat and Venkamma Reddy raised six children in Nandi Vaddeman, about 60 kilometers south of Hyderabad. Yes, Mr. Reddy still thinks in kilometers.

Mr. Reddy's childhood home of mud walls and wood rafters is still there.

"A teacher is using it now," he said. "It is a little run down."

Mr. Reddy's father had 300 acres and supported 11 servant families. Nothing was mechanized; bulls were used to farm.

The economy was largely a barter system. Laundry was done by the town's "washer man," who was paid with food. At harvest time, people would share in the yield, even the barber and pottery maker. Very few outside goods were purchased, Mr. Reddy recalled. From clothes to furniture to cooking oil, it was all made in the village.

Mr. Reddy remembers his father, who died five years ago, as a man who took care of the people who looked to him for their livelihood. "My father helped them get married, he took care of whatever they needed."

Mr. Reddy said it was his father's desire that he become an engineer. It was a career more lucrative and prestigious than even medicine. He studied six hours a night while in school.

"When someone graduates high school, the top 10 percent in math are on path to engineering, the next 10 percent were medicine," Mr. Reddy said. "A little bit of ego, too -- you want to be at the top."

There was no high school in Nandi Vaddeman, so Mr. Reddy had to travel each day to attend the school near Hyderabad, then a city of 1 million. It has 6 million residents now. He graduated from Karnataka University with a bachelor's degree in engineering.

Mr. Reddy met his wife, Niranjini, through family friends. It was not an arranged marriage, a practice that still runs through the Indian culture.

Coming to America in 1968 was his father-in-law's idea. He'd done it in the 1940s to obtain a doctorate degree before returning to India.

"He encouraged me to come here, get a degree and come back," said Mr. Reddy, who earned a master's degree in engineering at the University of Alabama. "I just decided to stay. Things were not that good at that time in India."

In his first job, in Greenville, S.C., he met a mentor, John D. Hollingsworth, who built carding machines that turn cotton into yarn.

"Smart guy. He revolutionized the carding industry," Mr. Reddy said. "He bought old carding machines for $150, modernized them, added some components, and would sell them for $6,000."

Mr. Reddy holds two patents from his five years of engineering for Mr. Hollingsworth.

In 1975, he went to work for Babcock & Wilcox, which is now known as Thermal Ceramics. He did some stints in plants in Puerto Rico and Brazil. Toward the end of his five years, with a residence in Augusta, he began to concentrate his efforts on energy conservation.

There was an energy crisis gripping the nation. Gas was expensive and in short supply. The economy was in recession.

Getting a break

"A lot of the Indian guys who are new come to me and I share what I can, steer them in the right direction sometimes," Mr. Reddy said.

When he came to Augusta in 1975, there were 15 Indian families in the city; now there are 500.

His assistance to entrepreneurs echoes his own life. In the 1980s, he got a break that propelled his fledgling company.

"Thirty years ago, it wasn't easy for a foreign-born American to enter the business system," Mr. Reddy said.

There was a need for energy control systems, so much so that he can recall a bunch of fly-by-night companies, but his fledgling business got a boost from an automobile dealer who was chamber of commerce president at the time.

"I would see him in the service department," car dealer Bob Richards Sr. said. "He came to see me with a device that would control the amount of electric we consumed. He was just starting in the business, and I was interested in saving money at the Chevrolet store. I bought that equipment from him."

Mr. Reddy came up with a unique marketing plan, offering to install the equipment for no cost if the business shared the savings with him.

"After six months (Mr. Richards) was saving 40 percent. He called me to buy the system," Mr. Reddy said.

Mr. Richards began recommending Mr. Reddy to his peers, and even made a call to the landlord of a New York-based apartment complex to help convince him to use Mr. Reddy for a complex on Washington Road.

Winn-Dixie and Piggly Wiggly grocery stores starting using Mr. Reddy's company, which led to industries such as Ingersoll-Rand.

In 1985, he started Powerline Inc. as a wholesale distributor of the Honeywell and Johnson Control devices he used at his first company.

Saving energy wasn't just talk for Mr. Reddy. He walked the walk, too.

"In our first house we had these solar panels," son Arvind Reddy said. "It was a new thing at that time to have solar energy incorporated in the home, particularly in Augusta, Georgia."

The Reddy house was the first in the area to have a programmable thermostat.

In the 1980s, energy conservation was a necessity. Nowadays it is part of the growing "green" movement.

Arvind said his father's idea of creating a zero-energy office stems from that conservation movement and is helped by advancements in technology. Stacks of magazines on the subject fill his father's desk. He tells of solar seminars, geothermal power, traveling to Denmark to see the latest energy lab. Wind and solar technology is so far improved that it has him excited, Arvind said, especially considering what it could mean in other parts of the world.

Near the port of Vizag, on the coast of Andhra Pradesh, sits a oil-fired power plant that Mr. Reddy built with one of his childhood friends.

"About 38 megawatts, which will serve 40,000 people," he said.

It is the last significant engineering project he's done. But those who need a professional engineer's stamp on some drawings to get a project permit can see him.

"It doesn't take much time. I don't charge them," he said.

Sign this

In 1970, Mr. Reddy met U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. A collector of stamps, books and autographs, Mr. Reddy wanted an autograph from Thurmond's wife, Nancy, who had been crowned Miss South Carolina 1965.

"I didn't have my autograph book with me," Mr. Reddy said. "I gave her a dollar bill to sign. He snatched it away and gave her a business card (instead)."

He met Thurmond again 30 years later as part of a Leadership Augusta trip. He didn't think Thurmond would remember him, having met millions of people in his long life in public office.

"Then I reminded him of getting an autograph from his wife on a dollar. 'I remember that,' " Thurmond said.

It wasn't the only time he tried to get an autograph on a dollar bill. Mr. Reddy was the chairman of the local George W. Bush re-election committee. During a fundraising dinner, he was among a throng of people trying to get a signature. He presented the president with a dollar. Mr. Bush put it in his pocket. Mr. Reddy handed over a $20 bill. The president feigned an effort to put that in his pocket, too, but then signed it.

"Something different," Mr. Reddy said. "I guess in my life also I always did something different, something better."

Mr. Reddy said he admired Thurmond's efforts to give back to the community.

Mr. Reddy was among the handful of people who bought land on Luckes Road in 1981 for the foundation of the Hindu Temple Society in Augusta. Not only was the temple among the first in the Southeast, it was among the first in the country.

He's also been a part of the creation of the Hindu Temple Society in Atlanta.

"T.R. has been very active in church, temple," Mr. Dugal said. "He's generous, donates large money to charity here and Atlanta."

Mr. Reddy also is a member of the Alexis de Toqueville Society, which is for people who donate $10,000 or more to help the United Way.

In 2006, Mr. Reddy and his wife created a family foundation to award scholarships for medical or engineering students from their hometown in India.

"I feel like I should give back. I encourage my friends to do it," Mr. Reddy said. "I wish more Indians would get involved in the community."

The Telugu Association of North America bestowed a community service award on him in 1987. In 1993, his efforts were recognized by the Non-Resident Indian Welfare Society of India. He received another community service award from the America Telugu Association in 2000.

Gutsy investor

The ability to pay for this philanthropy didn't come strictly from his energy conservation business.

Mr. Richards said Mr. Reddy got into real estate and found it much more financially attractive.

"T.R. is a unique individual. He has the ability to perceive long-term profit where other people just can't see it," Mr. Richards said. "He's a gutsy investor. I'll give him a lot of credit for that."

Mr. Reddy is the landlord for Mr. Richards' North Leg Salvation Army location, buying the shopping center from Hull Storey Retail Group.

American companies have sought out Mr. Reddy to help them get into the Indian market, adding consultant to the hats that he wears.

"It is not as difficult as people think. Despite the small skirmish and problem, (India) has been a successful democracy for 60 years," Mr. Reddy said.

Because of intellectual property rights problems, some companies are steering away from China, choosing India instead. It helps that English is still a major language in the former British colony.

While still in high school, Arvind Reddy worked for his father for a summer. He was impressed by the way his father juggled his diversity of interests and roles.

"He deals with so many people in the Indian community, but he also deals with so many people in Augusta outside of the Indian community. He seamlessly goes back and forth. A lot of Indians, or a lot of foreigners, try to keep to their own. Its not something he's done."

Mr. Reddy serves on the University Health Care Foundation and Easter Seals boards. He was previously involved in the Georgia Medical Center Authority, Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Nearly half of his time is now occupied with efforts that have nothing to do with business. A third of his time is spent in India. It is an 18- to 20-hour flight, "depending on which way the wind is blowing."

At www.palamoor.org, people can find an organization he started with his friends to improve the health and education of the people in his native region. He's also made strides to modernize or build schools there.

"It is ironic, on one side you see a euphoria, all these good things going on in India, this richness," Mr. Reddy said. "While this is happening, there is a lot of migration from rural to urban. Better living conditions, better schools, better colleges. These villages are being left behind, people that cannot afford to go."

Arvind Reddy said his father financially supports a movement in India for an eye camp, where doctors travel to rural communities and provide people with glasses.

"It was a simple way to affect the lives of a large number of people in India. Tries to do that regularly," he said.

Despite his commitment to India, Arvind Reddy doesn't see his father moving back there. He doesn't see the elder Mr. Reddy retiring, either, but continuing to move from interest to interest.

Given how passionate Mr. Reddy is about the causes, it isn't a difficult juggling act.

His favorite pastime now is his grandchildren. He has three through his daughter, Sudha, and one from Arvind.

"Any free moment nowadays is spent traveling up to New York to visit his grandkids there, or coming over here to see my son," Arvind said.

Mr. Reddy said he'd like to write a biography one day.

A suggested title: Adbhutam. The equivalent of remarkable in Telugu.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

TIPPIREDDY RAMACHANDRA REDDY

BORN: Oct. 4, 1942, near Hyderabad, India


EDUCATION: Bachelor of engineering, Karnataka University, Bangalore, India; master's of engineering, University of Alabama


CAREER: Engineer with John D. Hollingsworth Co. in Greenville, S.C., then with Babcock and Wilcox in Augusta; started Power Control Systems and Powerline Inc.


CIVIC: Former member of the Georgia Medical Center Authority, member of the Alexis de Toqueville Society in The United Way, founding trustee of the Hindu temple in Augusta


FAMILY: Wife, Niranjini; daughter, Sudha; son, Arvind; four grandchildren


HOBBIES: Stamp and autograph collecting, tennis

Comments (6) Add comment
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mgroothand
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mgroothand 02/25/08 - 09:40 am
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Most immigrants from India

Most immigrants from India are a prime example of what successful, legal immigration can do for them and America. They learn the English language (with a delightful accent) and assimilate well.

iakovos
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iakovos 02/25/08 - 10:55 pm
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Mr. Reddy is a good man i

Mr. Reddy is a good man i know people he has helped, if he sees you trying he'll go to bat for you no matter who you are. My God Continue to bless him! Augusta is bless to have such a person in our community.

skyman_evans
7
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skyman_evans 02/26/08 - 12:30 am
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Obviously, Mr. Reddy has done

Obviously, Mr. Reddy has done a lot of good for the area both economically and socially, but I must say in my experiences with him in the past, I have found him to be one of the rudest and most disrespectful businessmen in Augusta!

Kranthi.aella
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Kranthi.aella 02/26/08 - 10:39 am
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I got inspired by him many

I got inspired by him many times as a fellow member of one of the social and charity organisations (palamoor.org).He has done lot to provide education for the poor from his home town.I am proud that he is from the same district (palamoor)that i am born.

doombuggy
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doombuggy 03/02/08 - 02:25 pm
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In the brief time that I have

In the brief time that I have gotten to know Mr. Reddy I feel truly blessed and enriched as a result of his knowledge and business experience. I have read the various comments posted so far and count myself fortunate to be in the company of those who share the same positive sentiments about him. To the individual who posted the negative comment about him, all I can say is that I am truly sorry that they felt it necessary to publicly comment someone they really don't know. Certainly I don't know the specific details of their experience with Mr. Reddy, but one does not become a business success as Mr. Reddy has by not working hard and holding people accountable for their actions. I've had a chance to see firsthand his interaction with various business individuals and have seen his committment to helping others both here and abroad.
Kudos to Mr. Reddy for being recognized for his business accomplishments and his generous efforts for so many of us fortunate to be associated with him. Congratulations, TR.

Reality
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Reality 03/03/08 - 07:41 am
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Thanks so much for showing

Thanks so much for showing the Indian immigrants how to work the system for low interest loans(that American citizens can't get) to build motels in the area....

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